* I generally write using the pronouns he/him when referring to narcissists, but females are just as likely to be narcissists or exhibit narcissistic traits. So please don't think just because article uses the word him or he that it could not be a woman in that same role.
Table of Contents
- What does narcissism mean?
- When does narcissism become a personality disorder?
- What is narcissistic abuse?
- How do narcissists manipulate people:
- What is the narcissistic abuse cycle?
- Results of narcissistic abuse cycle:
- How to get out of this cycle of abuse?
- How to heal as a survivor of narcissistic abuse?
- Why is narcissistic abuse so damaging?
- Continue Reading About Narcissistic Personality Disorder
What does narcissism mean?
Narcissism is a trait in which a person appears to be pathologically self-absorbed. The person has an inflated ego, an exaggerated self-image, and a tendency to exploit or take others for granted. It is named after the Greek mythological figure “Narcissus,” who fell in love with his reflection in the mirror.
When does narcissism become a personality disorder?
When the narcissistic behavior develops along with him and shows signs well after puberty, it is classified as a narcissistic personality disorder. This behavior starts hindering the patient’s day-to-day life and personal relationships, which leads to clinical evaluation, and finally, the diagnosis is made.
What is narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)?
People exhibiting narcissistic qualities are said to be suffering from NPD. They have a grandiose and unreal image and expect others to treat them with extreme admiration and importance. They are hungry for attention and are always unhappy when their expectation is not met. They enforce they are superior to everybody else to mask their low self-worth.
They are generally known to show the following traits:
- They feel entitled to the constant admiration of people around them.
- They falsely exaggerate every little achievement in their life.
- They have an unreal sense of self-importance.
- They expect everyone to treat them as superior or think they are superior to everybody around them.
- They are preoccupied with their beauty, talent, and brilliance.
- They think they have a monopoly over what’s right and what’s wrong in a conversation.
- Look down upon people who they think are inferior.
- They expect to have the best of everything and unwarranted favors.
- Take others’ feelings and points of view with a grain of salt.
- Expect people to comply with their needs and tantrums without questioning.
- They are often seen as boastful, arrogant, and conceited.
- Try to take advantage of others for their benefit.
Selfish behavior is confused with confidence a lot of the time. However, these two are poles apart. A healthy, confident person is sure of themselves, humble, and full of gratitude. They have self-esteem and self-worth lacking in people suffering from NPD.
Causes of narcissistic personality disorder:
It is not known what causes this disorder or what factors are responsible. But they can be linked to :
- An unstable relationship with parents where the child gets either unnecessary criticism or excessive admiration.
- Inherited characteristics may also play a role.
- Some faults in the neurobiology of the patient might be the reason.
Complications of narcissistic personality disorder.
Common hardships faced by patients suffering from this disorder are:
- Trouble maintaining relationships.
- Thoughts of unfulfillment lead to depression and suicidal thoughts.
- Drugs or alcohol misuse to overcome emotional trouble.
- Physical health issues.
Where does narcissism come from?
Narcissism is a type of personality disorder, a subtype of mental issue characterized by dysfunctional patterns of cognition, behavior, and personal experience. These are translated into behavior by the patient who is not acceptable normally.
Narcissism is, more often than not, overcompensation for an emotionally weak person with a fragile ego and low self-worth. To avoid criticism of their actions, their minds develop an exaggerated state of self-righteousness.
The root of narcissism is embedded in fear of not being good enough, which is countered by devaluing others’ opinions and a strong belief that they are right no matter what and deserve all the good coming their way. And if someone is criticizing, they are jealous of how brilliant and successful you are. The belief is so staunch that it becomes a personality trait that only gets more and more chronic.
What is narcissistic abuse?
If you live with someone who has narcissistic tendencies, life can be a nightmare. It can lead to another syndrome known as narcissistic abuse syndrome or narcissistic victim syndrome. This affects the persons’ mental health in a negative way. This is a very damaging trait practiced by people suffering from NPD, among many others.
It is a type of emotional abuse where the narcissistic person uses emotions, words, and actions to manipulate their partners’ emotions and sense of right. The abuser is apathetic to other person feelings. They pass the blame for their actions on the victim by psychological projection. Narcissist tries to control their partners’ behavior by twisting their words and playing with their emotions.
The people going through this disorder are more or less like people affected by PTSD. They experience flashbacks, emotional triggers, detachment, and isolation. The affected person is left with low self-worth, broken self-esteem, and shaken confidence. They tend to blame themselves for all the wrongs happening around them and are extra cautious.
How do narcissists manipulate people:
People with NPD manipulate people with these tactics:
Gaslighting: they get you to doubt your own experiences. You start questioning your reality and perspective. They insist that your experiences never happened.
Hoovering: This means attempts to pull you back in the abusive relationship through emotional manipulation.
Triangulation: They involve a third party, usually their well-wisher, to reinforce their point of view and prove you wrong.
Scapegoating: This tactic involves putting all the blame on the one person designated as a scapegoat and making them responsible for everything that goes wrong around them.
Silent treatment. This tactic makes the partner feel isolated and alone and makes them see your point. It is also played out to control a person by cornering them.
Passive-aggressive: using sarcasm, sabotage, and blame games to put the person under pressure. This is a type of covert narcissistic manipulation.
Signs of narcissistic abuse syndrome:
Here are some signs that indicate that you have been a target of narcissistic abuse:
1. The abuser is a perfect human being initially.
There is always a set pattern to narcissistic abuse. It always starts when you get involved in a relationship. The abusers initially ‘love-bomb’ you. A condition means that they show extreme attention, kindness, and generosity. They shower you with compliments, gifts, and praises.
It gets you to fall in love with them too fast and too hard, and when you do, the behavior also starts shifting. The compliment and gifts are replaced by sarcasm and manipulation—tactics like negging and gaslighting and silent treatment when you do something displeasing become a routine.
2. People do not believe that it is abuse.
The abuse is so subtle and always behind closed doors that even your closest family members and friends do not notice it. Forget about outsiders, and you get confused about what is going on. You start feeling guilty and ashamed over things you have not even done.
This can be harmful in shaking your trust in your close ones and yourself.
3. They start sabotaging you in public.
Narcissists have this undeniable need to come off as perfect individuals. To prove themselves a good partner, they start making you look bad in front of others. They tell twisted lies and make up stories to involve others in criticizing you. They make you upset and use your anger to prove their point by making you seem dangerous or unstable. They disvalue and discredit you in front of your close ones, resulting in you getting isolated.
4. You feel alone.
Nobody around you believes you or understands you. Once you start feeling isolated, the abuser pulls you back into the relationship through apologies and promises. When nobody believes your side of the story, you start doubting yourself.
5. You tend to freeze.
If your attempts of leaving the relationship or escaping the abuse meet with failure, your natural response is to freeze or fawn. Fawning is an unconscious behavior in which you start trying to please the abuser to appease them and escape the threat they pose.
This happens when you feel there is no way out, and numbing the pain is the only solution.
6. You cannot make decisions.
Constant criticism and belittling can naturally lead to low self-esteem and self-doubt. You are constantly told that you make bad decisions or are not smart enough to decide things independently. This leads to second-guessing yourself and believing that you are ignorant or dumb. Gaslighting plays a key role in this regard.
7. You are always feeling guilty.
An abusive partner makes sure that you know everything is your fault. They do not take responsibility for their actions and project their shortcomings on you. They do this by getting so angry that you take the blame or appease them or make them happy.
You become so ashamed of constant mistakes that you feel gratitude towards the abuser for being with you.
Even after the relationship ends, you keep blaming yourself for anything that goes wrong in any area of your life.
8. Your physical health deteriorates.
Abuse can affect your body in a way that triggers some health problems like:
- Upset stomach
- Appetite change
- Body aches
You start using drugs to overcome these problems that might lead to dependency.
9. You are always restless.
You are always on edge while living with an abusive person. You never know what reaction might you trigger in them. You have a constant feeling of restlessness and anxiety. You forget to relax and feel safe as your brain is always in overdrive, stressing.
10. Your personality changes.
In an abusive relationship, you adjust and change according to your partner’s needs to survive. You lose interest in activities that once made you happy. You lose your identity and self-worth. You stop enjoying life and feel like you have no purpose left.
11. There are no boundaries.
An abusive partner has no respect for your personal space or boundaries. They give you silent treatment if you try to enforce some boundaries or outright make you feel guilty or selfish. They wear you down until you give in and lose every sense of privacy or personal space.
This does not go away with the relationship. You are left with a confused sense of space and fail to set healthy boundaries for yourself in other relations as well
12. You have anxiety or depression.
Living in an abusive relationship, constant worrying and stress trigger anxiety. You live in constant fear of what might come next, making you a patient of anxiety. The confusion and hopelessness make you depressed. You constantly live in an unhappy environment that further exacerbates the situation.
What is the narcissistic abuse cycle?
This is a pattern of behavior where the abuser confuses their partner through manipulation. They use the highs and lows to baffle their partner, making calculated moves to keep their victim in an abusive relationship.
It follows the cycle of idealization, devaluation, and rejection to traumatize their partner. The victims start feeling worthless and get stuck in the cycle.
There are three stages to the narcissistic abuse cycle:
Stage 1: Idealization.
This phase involves behavior like love bombing
- Excessive attention
- Gifts and compliments
- Extensive plans of marriage
- Lack of personal space
- Intimacy and sense of ownership of the partner.
This stage happens in the initial time of the relationship, and everything looks rose-colored. The abuser looks like a perfect partner in the beginning. The situation starts changing for the worst when the abusive partner feels entranced by the victim.
Stage 2: devaluation:
In this stage, the honeymoon phase comes to an end. The abuser starts trying to change their partner. They start putting their partners down and gaslighting them in all matters. Criticism and threats become a norm in the relationship. Communication is lost, and tactics like isolation, control, and manipulation come into play.
Stage 3: Rejection
At this point, the abusers get tired of their partners and start disregarding them. They are not getting the ego boost they need and do not value the love in the relationship. They start looking for other partners to fulfill their need for affirmation and admiration. They start exhibiting rage and contempt for their partners. They cheat and play the victim to manipulate the situation. They start working towards ending the relationship and shifting the blame on the victim.
It may seem like linear stages of an abusive relationship, but this is a cycle where the abuser uses the last stage as a hovering technique to pull the victim back into the relationship, followed by showering them with compliments and apologies. They put on a show of changing themselves, but it is not long before the cycle starts again.
Results of narcissistic abuse cycle:
The abuser uses this whole cycle of toxicity to keep the victim emotionally tangled. The victims internalize all the blame and see themselves as the guilty party in this whole situation. They feel sorry for the abuser and accept that they are the problem. The survivor experiences symptoms like:
- Eating issues
- Loss of interest in hygiene
How to get out of this cycle of abuse?
The only option a person has is to decide that they want to end the cycle and get out of this toxic relationship. It is not going to be easy, and due to trauma bonding, many victims end up in the relationship repeatedly.
The first step, in any case, is the realization that you are in an abusive relationship and you have to escape. Start setting strict boundaries and don’t let anyone cross these boundaries no matter how close. Respect your personal space and enforce it on other people.
Narcissists only learn to take and never get satisfied with what you have to offer. No matter what you do, it will not be enough for them. So tell yourself to stop trying and let some things be.
Stop acting as their ego boosters. Let the narcissist in them feel the critique. Do not soothe their hurt ego at the expense of your emotion or peace of mind.
Do not give second chances. If you successfully close the door at a narcissist, do not let them enter your life a second time. It will only make things worse, and you will fall back into the same cycle of abuse.
How to heal as a survivor of narcissistic abuse?
These are the steps you can take to heal yourself emotionally and physically:
Give yourself some time. Your mind and body are exhausted after such an ordeal. Don’t push yourself to get better in a short period. It is a long process, so you must give yourself the margin to heal.
Keep your support circle close. Make sure you are surrounded by people who love and understand you. Have a strong support group that empathizes with you.
Seek therapy as hard as it is to talk about such mishaps. You must go to therapy and seek a professional’s counsel.
Absolve yourself of any guilt you feel. Tell yourself that it was not your duty to feed that abusers need or to heal them at the expense of your well-being. Make sure you understand that tolerating abuse and becoming complacent is never okay.
Why is narcissistic abuse so damaging?
Narcissists leave scars that do not let the victim function normally in their lives. They not only hurt the victim emotionally, but they also disturb them mentally. The victim loses any sense of self-love or self-worth. They lose confidence in themselves and the people around them. They cannot form new relations due to fear of getting into another vicious cycle. Their view of perceiving the world around them is distorted. They encounter difficulty learning a new behavior, and their minds are in constant flight or fight mode in future relationships.
The survivors from this cycle of abuse are usually left hanging in their confusion of what transpired. They cannot put the finger on the actual problem and end up blaming themselves for getting sucked into this toxic cycle. Some common queries by these survivors are:
- Why is recovering from a narcissistic relationship so tough?
Your recovering from a narcissistic relationship is like building yourself from the ground up. During the relationship, you were subjected to so much doubt and gaslighting that you forgot your identity and self-worth. It takes time to regain trust and heal from the trauma.
- How can I change my abusive partner?
You cannot. You are only responsible for reforming yourself. The burden of healing other people and making them see the light is not yours to bear. Focus on your well-being instead of trying to change the other person. If a person doesn’t want to change, they will not change no matter what you do.
- How do I cut all ties with the abuser?
If you are a survivor of an abusive relationship, going cold turkey might be the right approach. Block the person from your life entirely. If you encounter them, compose yourself and be mindful of their manipulation. Meet in the presence of a loved one you trust if meeting with the abuser is inevitable.
- How should I react to the silent treatment?
If you know a person that tries to control you through this tactic, it is best to avoid them. This is a very powerful and harmful tactic used by the abuser to manipulate the victim into submission. Do not be fooled and ignore such people around you.
- Was it my fault? Was I the enabler?
Know that nothing you could have done would make any difference in how a narcissistic person sees themselves or treats you. What they did was and always will be on them. You were a victim of a vicious cycle, and nothing you did discount the type of trauma and scaring you went through.
A survivor of this emotional trauma can get well. If you realize you are a victim of an abusive relationship, seek professional help. Try and leave the relationship and immediately consult a therapist specializing in this field. Empower yourself with knowledge on managing such situations and intervene in time to save yourself from any harm.
Continue Reading About Narcissistic Personality Disorder
If you need a crisis hotline or want to learn more about therapy, please see below:
- RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) – 1-800-656-4673
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255
- National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-7233
- NAMI Helpline (National Alliance on Mental Illness) – 1-800-950-6264
For more information on mental health, please see:
- SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) SAMHSA Facebook, SAMHSA Twitter, SAMHSA LinkedIn, SAMHSA Youtube
- Mental Health America, MHA Twitter, MHA Facebook, MHA Instagram, MHA Pinterest, MHA Youtube
- WebMD, WebMD Facebook, WebMD Twitter, WebMD Instagram, WebMD Pinterest
- NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health), NIMH Instagram, NIMH Facebook, NIMH Twitter, NIMH YouTube
- APA (American Psychiatric Association), APA Twitter, APA Facebook, APA LinkedIN, APA Instagram
10) Şar V MD, Türk-Kurtça T PhD. The Vicious Cycle of Traumatic Narcissism and Dissociative Depression Among Young Adults: A Trans-Diagnostic Approach. J Trauma Dissociation. 2021 Oct-Dec;22(5):502-521. DOI: 10.1080/15299732.2020.1869644. Epub 2021 Jan 11. PMID: 33427111.